Herb Kohl did so much for the team and the city during his time as the owner and governor of the Milwaukee Bucks. This is exactly why fans, players, and virtually every single member of the Bucks organization have been mourning his recent passing.
Moving messages honoring his legacy have been pouring in since his death was announced on Wednesday evening, which is a clear testament to just how great this man truly was.
A Major Dilemma
It was in 2014 that Kohl decided to sell the Bucks to Wes Edens and Marc Lasry. This was after a 29-year reign as the governor of the team.
Kohl, a former United States senator, ended up agreeing to a price of $550 million for the sale of the team. However, as detailed by Edens himself, there was one major dilemma during the transition of the organization to new ownership:
“During the sale process, it was said over and over that, obviously, he wanted to get a fair price for the team, but it was very important that they committed to staying in town,” Edens said, via Eric Nehm of The Athletic. “Of course, the issue at the time was that the Bradley Center was not deemed to be an acceptable venue by the NBA, so there was a mandate that they had to build a new facility or the team couldn’t stay there. So it was a very real issue.”
Kohl’s sale of the team coincided with the need to build a new arena that met the standards of the modern-day NBA. It was a significant concern that Edens and Lasry had inherited from the previous regime.
Herb Kohl’s $100 Million Gift for Milwaukee Bucks
In truth, Kohl could have ridden off into the sunset with his $550 million. After all, the arena issue was a problem for the new team owners.
That’s just not the man Herb Kohl is, though. Instead of walking away with his massive profit, Kohl decided to do the exact opposite. He decided to shell out $100 million out of his own pocket to spearhead the construction of the team’s new arena, the Fiserv Forum.
“Just to put it in context, I mean, the $550 million we paid for the team at that time was the highest price ever paid for an NBA team,” Edens said. “And it’s one of the NBA’s smallest markets and the team had a pretty rough spell competitively. Together, we really wrestled with what the right way was to try to help us ensure that we could get the arena built.
“In an extraordinary gesture, he basically gave to us, towards the building of the arena, a $100 million gift. And I think it’s one of the most extraordinary acts, philanthropically sports-related that I’m aware of, maybe the most. He gave us $100 million. The city and state allocated us money and then we put up the rest and that’s how it all got cobbled together. And I think that his $100 million was really the pivotal amount at the time. And had that not happened, then it was very likely the Bucks would be in Las Vegas or Seattle or wherever else they might be. So it’s extraordinary.”
Kohl was a well-known philanthropist, but this is perhaps the biggest act of generosity he’s ever pulled off in his life — at least for the Bucks organization.
“It was very important to him for us to keep the team in Milwaukee,” Lasry said. “He ended up giving us $100 million to build a new arena. And we had said to him, ‘Is there anything you want? Should we name it the Kohl Center? Is there anything you want us to do?’ And he was like, ‘No, no, this is for the community. This isn’t about me. This is about what’s good for Milwaukee.”
According to Edens, this gesture was a perfect embodiment of the type of man Herb Kohl was. It was never about the money. For the former senator, it was making sure that his beloved Bucks were in the right hands.
“He could have sold probably to a higher bidder,” Edens said “… There were a number of different parties interested in making the investment and all of them were focused, for the most part, on moving the Bucks. And he wanted to sell and he drove a hard bargain and we paid the highest price anyone had ever paid, but then he turned around and took $100 million out of his pocket to make sure that we built an arena and kept the Bucks in town.
“That’s actually who he was.”
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